The Secret Origins of Santanico (sort of)

Ara Celi as ‘Esmeralda’ in “From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter”(Contains SPOILERS)

Sadly my old blog post about From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) seems to have been lost to the tubes, so here’s a quick summary: I pretty much love that movie right up until the point where people start turning into vampires. Not that I have anything against vamps, of course… I just think that the Gecko Brothers were such compelling characters, they could have easily carried a movie all by themselves, without the need for an ambush by monsters to derail their flight from the authorities! Still, the ten minutes or so immediately preceding that disorienting narrative shift remain the high point of the movie for me, thanks to Salma Hayek’s sexy snake-dance… there’s something so perfect about the setting and the music and the moves… in fact, it’s probably one of my favourite sequences in the history of cinema! I don’t really share (or even understand) QT’s foot-fetish, but who wouldn’t want to suck tequila from that woman’s toes? Santanico Pandemonium may not have much to say for herself, but she still manages to make an indelible impression… so, while I wasn’t in any great rush to see any of the Hayek-less, straight-to-video sequels, I was intrigued to discover that the third FDTD movie, The Hangman’s Daughter (2000), supposedly dealt with Ms. Pandemonium’s back-story.

Rebecca Gayheart as ‘Mary Newlie’ in “From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter”I found the DVD going cheap in a charity shop last week, and have to say I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. For one thing, it’s co-written by Robert Rodriguez himself, and the direction seems to owe a lot to his style… plus, there’s clearly been a fair amount of cash spent on it, evident in both the energetic action sequences and the quality cast. Set in the early 1900’s, the story follows famed American author Ambrose Bierce (yes, really) as he travels across Mexico hoping to volunteer his services to the revolutionary Pancho Villa. Along the way he shares a carriage with a prissy couple of newlyweds, who are looking to set up a Bible school in Tierra Negra, and is delayed by a dangerous outlaw named ‘Johnny Madrid’, who escaped the law’s clutches along with the eponymous ‘Esmeralda’. By sheer coinky-dink, they all end up seeking shelter at a rather familiar watering-hole named “La Tetilla del Diablo”… which my Spanish/English dictionary translates as either “Teat of the Devil” or “The Devil’s Nipple”! Once again, I found my favourite scenes occurring here, as the disparate travellers endure the scorn of the surly barkeep, ‘Razor Charlie’, and succumb to the seductive charms of the establishment’s proprietress, ‘Quixla’… and, once again, I thought it all went to crap as soon as the vamps started transforming, and reducing the (generally) amusing and well-drawn characters to naught but generic fang-fodder! Boo. Hate to be a nerd here, but the vampire mythology is pretty inconsistent with the original movie, in terms of how quickly their victims turn, and how powerfully they’re effected by crosses. I was also extremely disappointed by how slapdash the writers were about explaining Esmeralda’s connection to Quixla, and her destiny to become the legendary vampire princess we all know and love. That could have been a pretty awesome storyline, if they’d given it enough room to breathe… but sadly, it just feels like they half-arsed her whole arc, because they were too busy rehashing their “criminals on the run” schtick from the first flick. They could just as easily have had her fleeing her authoritarian father and ending up at the same bar, without ever even encountering Johnny and his gang… but I guess that wasn’t the movie they wanted to make.

Sonia Braga as ‘Quixla’ in “From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter”On the plus side, there are plenty fun performances to enjoy along the way: Bierce is played by the ever-reliable Michael Parks, who has appeared in several previous QT/R-Rod flicks as ‘Earl McGraw’. The second time I watched Kill Bill: Vol. 2, I was surprised to discover that he also plays the super-creepy pimp ‘Esteban Vihaio’ in that movie! Dude’s a chameleon. Esmeralda is played by the ridiculously beautiful Ara Celi, who I already had a long-standing crush on from the second season of Buffy, in which she played ‘Ampata Gutierrez’, the exchange student who falls for Xander’s gawky charms… and then reveals herself to be a life-sucking Incan Mummy. Oh no! Anyway, she’s absolutely adorable here, and if I had anything to do with it, she’d be a much bigger star by now. ‘Mary Newlie’, the wife of the churchy couple is played by Rebecca Gayheart, of Dead Like Me fame. Okay, she wasn’t in very many episodes, but she was there a lot longer than series creator Bryan Fuller, and she was lucky enough not to get dragged into the abysmal second season (or the direct-to-DVD cash-in), so I have very happy memories of her work on the show. Razor Charlie was once again portrayed by the indomitable Danny Trejo… bless ‘im. And last, but certainly not least, the Vampire Queen Quixla was played by Sonia Braga… who then went on to appear as Samantha’s lesbian lady-friend ‘Maria’ in the fourth season of Sex and the City. She’s a damn sight sexier here, even with her clothes on… and the scene where she licks Celi’s back was pretty much worth the sticker price all by itself!

Meanwhile, I was Googling for screencaps when I stumbled over THIS incredible illustration of Santanico, by NuvoleDiCarta @ DeviantArt. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write my pitch for a Tex-Mex remake of Cheers, starring all of the aforementioned actors.

¡Adios!

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About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action.
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